Journey of a Dog With IMT: One Year Later

One year ago, my dog was diagnosed with IMT, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, a life-threatening disease that nearly took him, without warning, from this world. I was devastated, shocked, but determined. Nothing stops this dog mama from doing what it takes to provide her dog with the best care possible. That said, there is a lot I’ve learned over these past 365 days, which I hope will provide hope, support, and information to anyone dealing with this horrible immune system disease.

My dog was nine years old at the time, and he just turned 10 years old.

Spoiler Alert: He recovered and one year later, he is thriving, thank Dog. I am not a veterinarian, but I am a dog health and wellness writer/blogger and I’ve amassed an arsenal of knowledge in speaking to specialists, reading, research, and learning about this disease.

dealing with a dog with IMT

Diary of a Dog With IMT

To read our diary in real-time as it happened, please refer to the Diary of a Dog with Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia blog post.

Summary of Dexter’s IMT Diagnosis

On Saturday, October 7, 2017, we took a road trip to a pet-friendly beach in New Jersey. Throughout the day, our dog ran, played, showed energy, ate, drank water, and did not go in the ocean. We had a truly memorable day. Little did we realize how memorable it would become.

Every night before bed, I brush my dog’s teeth. While preparing to do so, I noticed red splotchy marks on his gums and some bleeding from between two teeth. Thinking he may have been bit by a bug or having an allergic reaction, I examined further. His ear flaps had some splotches and he had a thick brown substance in his ear.

We rushed him to the emergency vet located 10 minutes from our home. This is what he looked like on arrival to the vet:

dog gums IMT

The entire time, Dexter never displayed signs of sickness, weakness, and he remained bright, alert, responsive, tail wagging.

Examination and blood tests revealed the diagnosis of IMT, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia. He was admitted to the hospital on Saturday evening and discharged on Wednesday.

What Caused My Dog’s IMT

In most cases, the cause of IMT is never discovered. We are fortunate in that we know what caused Dexter’s IMT: a tick. A nasty, scourge-of-the-earth tick. The tick did not bite Dexter on this day at the beach. Dexter’s blood was sent to an outside lab for serologic testing. It revealed positive for A. phagocytophilum (E. equi).

“Anaplasmosis in dogs is caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It used to be known as Ehrlichia equi and Ehrlichia phagocytophilia. The more complete name for the disease is “canine granulocytic anaplasmosis.” It commonly affects the platelets in the blood, which are small cellular components found in the blood which help clots to form. Anaplasmosis causes thrombocytopenia, which is a lower than normal number of platelets in the blood.”

A tick caused this. It is one of the many tick-borne diseases that dogs can get when an infected tick bites the dog, thus infecting them.

The ironic part is that we had in-office testing done to see if Dexter had any of these tick-borne diseases. You may be familiar with a test called SNAP 4DX Plus, where blood is drawn, placed into this small testing apparatus, and within minutes results are given. Dexter’s results were normal. I will still have my dog screened for tick-borne diseases with SNAP 4DX Plus, but I also have his blood drawn and tested more frequently for closer examination.

IDEXX snap 4 test

While in the hospital, Dexter was treated with doxycycline, and the savvy internal medicine veterinarian managing his case actually started it when he was first admitted, just in case. He informed us that it a tick-borne disease, like IMT, can rear its ugly head after sitting in the dog’s bone marrow for a period of time. He also received an injection of Imizol in hospital and further treatments thereafter. The only way to know is to re-infect the dog, and no, that is not happening – he was just saying.

Again, in most cases, the instigating factor of IMT is not known. Some of the things believed to spawn IMT or IMHA, or both, known as Evans Syndrome:

  • Primary immune system problem
  • ITP secondary to another condition
  • Genetic component (associated with certain breeds, and Cocker Spaniels are on that short list)
  • Cancer
  • Inflammation somewhere in the body
  • Sulfa drugs
  • Infectious disease

Dr. Robert Runde, Dexter’s internal medicine specialist was interviewed for Dogster magazine, and Dexter was featured as a lead story.

Some of the breeds mentioned as more prone to immune-mediated diseases include Cockers, German Shepherd Dogs, Poodles, Collies, Irish Setters, Afghan Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Old English Sheepdogs. It is not clear why.

Every dog is different and every treatment route is different. If you read articles online, be sure the medical information is sourced and valid.

Dexter IMT diagnosis

Why I Believed Dexter Recovered From IMT

Timing

Time is of the utmost importance when your dog gets an immune system disease. The longer you wait to go to the vet, the worst the prognosis becomes. Also, the doctor treating the dog should be specialized and familiar with this disease. Just as humans see specialists for specific things, so too, should dogs.

In the past year, the number of dog parents I’ve heard from whose dogs succumbed to an immune disease is alarming. One thing many of them had in common was waiting too long or not seeking specialized care. Other times, the dog simply died despite all they did.

If you take one thing from this article, it is this: know what is normal in your dog, and look now. Take photos. Pink gums. Ear flaps. Eyes. Then if abnormal happens, you act. Know that any change in urine or bowel movements should be checked. Don’t wait. Moments matter. Don’t judge someone else’s dog’s illness with your own dog’s issues. Every dog and every treatment plan is different. Trust your gut. Don’t wait. I share to help others and so you feel better prepared as a pet parent and questions to ask, things to watch for.

Had we waited until morning to seek veterinary care, our dog would have either been dead or been much harder to treat.

Veterinary Specialist Protocol

I firmly believe the protocol of my dog’s internal medicine specialist, Dr. Robert Runde, saved my dog’s life. Every dog is different and what may work for one dog, may need to be altered for another. You can read what he used, when, and all about that in our original Diary of a Dog with IMT Post.

Diet

Dexter eats a healthy diet. I am often asked what food my dog eats; perhaps one of the most often-asked questions. He eats a whole food diet from Dr. Harvey’s, and he thrives on the Veg-to-Bowl formula mixed with organic cooked lean ground beef. I rotate it with Canine Health from Dr. Harvey’s. I firmly believe in the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ adage. I love this food so much that I asked Dr. Harvey’s if I could be a brand ambassador, and they said yes.

No Chemicals

We don’t use chemicals on or in the dog. We use a combination of Only Natural Pet products and Wondercide. I long stopped using chemical spot ons or ingestible pills. My last Cocker had major adverse reactions to a chemical flea preventative spot on, and it literally burned the hair off her back, never to grow back. There is nothing that is 100 percent guaranteed to prevent fleas and ticks. There are things you can do, to minimize your dog’s risk. I firmly believe lack of toxic chemicals on or in my dog helped to save his life. We do use heartworm preventative because we live in an area that is mosquito heavy.

Dexter takes an oral heartworm preventative.  I take him off it for the winter months and then go back on in the spring. Dr Dodds suggests every 45 days instead of 30 in the active months. I am following that. So far so good over the past year.

Vaccines Are Stopped

We don’t do the typical yearly vaccines. We are not anti-vaccine; we are anti over vaccination. We follow the vaccine protocol of Dr. Dodds, but now my dog will no longer be getting any vaccines, and that includes the rabies vaccine. Yes, that is a requirement unless you have your vet write to the state veterinary department and explain your dog gets a waiver and why. Any stimulation like a vaccine puts my dog at risk of death.

Dr. Runde told Dogster magazine, “Vaccines stimulate the immune system, and if a dog has an autoimmune disease, the vaccines can adversely stimulate the dog’s system.”

He also says that once a dog has an immune-mediated disease, it is “best to keep vaccines to a minimum or to stop them. Instead, the dog can get titer tested.”

Incidentally, my dog was affected by kennel cough years ago when he used to get the vaccine against it. We stopped that vaccine years ago.

Supplements

Dexter is given a few supplements including: Cosequin DS Advanced for his arthritis, Omega 3 capsule for immunity and heart health, Dr. Harvey’s CoEnzyme Q10 for heart health, and we recently started Pet Releaf CBD oil capsules for immune health and support.

For close to one year, we kept Dexter on melatonin 3 mg one to two times a day to help keep his platelets up. This was on the advice and protocol of his internal medicine specialist.

I believe having a strong immune system helped him bounce back.

Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Dexter is walked and played with daily. Weather does not stop us. We make time for play indoors.

We show and tell our dog we love him. He is brushed, loved, gets ample mental stimulation, and I truly believe in the power of love.

Show your dog you love them, do things with them, spend time together, put the phone down and have quality time every single day.

What Can You Do To Prevent IMT in Dogs

There is not a whole lot you can do to 100 percent prevent IMT or its nasty sister disease, IMHA, from affecting your dog. There are, however, things you can do to lessen the likelihood.

Follow the above and make the right decisions for your dog in terms of healthy diet, proper supplements, exercise, mental stimulation, vaccine protocol, and limit chemical exposure.

I’ve written a whole blog post on how to strengthen a dog’s immune system.

Blood Draws Protocol

For the first week or two, we did blood draws to check platelet count every few days, then once a week, every two weeks, once a month, quarterly, and now we check it at least every six months. I am more of a precautionist, so I prefer he have it checked every three to four months.

Dog at the vet
“Can I have a cookie for being a good boy at the vet?”

Hope for Dogs With IMT

If your dog has been diagnosed with IMT, there is hope. It is an expensive disease, and it did run us over $10,000 total (probably more now with testing). I would do whatever is needed for my dog, and I realize not everyone is equipped to do the same financially. It’s not easy, but these are our dogs, folks. We owe it to them to do our best. We’ve had Nationwide pet insurance for Dexter since he entered our lives.

For over 20 years, we’ve had this insurance (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance/VPI) and never once had a problem. I don’t get paid to tell you this. We now pay $101 a month for this policy and it is so worth it. We have the top of the line plan. There are other variations. They covered close to 90 percent or more of the expenses incurred in a timely fashion.

If you don’t want pet insurance, I recommend a savings account at the very least; something you can rely on in a time of crisis.

There are resources for dogs in need whose owners have limited funds, which you can read about here: Help If You Can’t Afford Your Dog’s Medical Bill

One thing that helped me immensely is talking with others who have dogs affected by IMT. I run a Cocker Spaniel health and wellness group on Facebook, which you are welcome to join if you have an interest in the breed and its well being.

There are other groups on Facebook that you can search on which deal specifically with IMT and IMHA. IMHA tends to be the scarier disease, but anything that attacks a dog’s immune system is a red alert.

Take care of your dogs, be the person they think you are, and stay strong. Here’s the video I did last year when Dexter was discharged. I should also mention that our friends supported us, cared, prayed, and worried every step of the way. Their strength kept us strong, and we are forever grateful. It truly takes a village, and as corny as it sounds, love can and does build a bridge.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Carol (Dar & Dex too!) for sharing this valuable information to all pet owners. As I read your article, I thought how similar a path I have been down with Lucy & Holly. You and I have previously spoken at length about various health issues with my GirlZ, Lucy & Holly. Both have high quality of lives very similar to Dex’s life. Our internist has provided almost verbatim the same care and advice. I follow everything to the letter, as Lucy & Holly are the center of my universe and I will do anything and everything necessary to provide them with the best of care. I love them with all my heart. We have the same pet insurance coverage as well, for which I am grateful as I have extremely high (and ongoing) vet/treatment care bills. Holly’s recent spinal surgery and specialized vet care cost approx $10,000, so I am thankful for pet ins. Thanks to you, Lucy & Holly are thriving nicely on Dr. Harvey’s foods and supplements. We see a vet internist routinely (every 4-6 months) as well as our holistic vet. All this to say, THANK YOU. You are a blessing to me, Lucy & Holly (and many others). We send much love and appreciation to you, Dar and Dex. Hugs all around!

  2. I’ve read every single one of your articles on IMT and all you went through with Dexter. I feel i’m much more equipped knowing what to look for in my dog now. I also now know what is normal vs abnormal using your daily techniques. You’ve provided a wealth of information here Carol and I’ve printed copies of this for my notebook. Thank you for sharing yours and Dexter’s journey with your readers. You’ve probably, no doubt saved lives.

  3. Thank you for the follow-up! My 5 year old schnoodle Bella has gone through two bouts of IMT — the first time after a tick bite (anaplasmosis) and the second time about 18 months later, for no reason we could find. Both times the vet worked really hard with me to help mitigate treatment costs and still get a good outcome, because I do NOT have pet insurance. (I do plan to purchase a policy soon, though.)

    I’m still scared to death she will relapse a third time — I rub her tummy every morning, because she demands it, AND because this is where I first spotted the telltale hemorrhages. Delaying treatment, especially the second time, would have almost certainly cost her life: her platelet count was only 5,000 at the onset of her second bout. (During her first illness, she tested at around 40,000 at the time of diagnosis). After treatment with Vincristine, prenisone and Atopica, and 5 days in the hospital, I was able to take her home. She has been weaned off medications VERY slowly. For the moment, she is drug and symptom free, and I’m hoping there won’t be any more repeats.

    • Do you have your dog on a supplement to help immune boost? Also look into melatonin 3 mg and talk to the vet – because that helps boost platelets.

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